We have used couchsurfing in every continent we’ve travelled in: to meet new friends, find a free place to stay, and get an idea of local life in the cities and regions we’ve visited. In this podcast, we look at how to couchsurf.
What is couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a real-life social network for travellers. Rather than searching for people you know, it’s about finding people you’d like to meet in the places you’re going to visit. Not only can you arrange to meet for a drink somewhere, but you can also often request to stay with them — on their couch or sometimes in a guest room.
- Like Facebook, you fill out a profile and people can find you, based on your location.
- You can choose to offer someone a bed or to meet for a drink and show someone around your town.
- Travellers can look for free places to stay, and learn more about the places they visit.
How to couchsurf
For travellers, couchsurfing is as simple as creating a profile on Couchsurfing.org and then looking for a suitable person to stay with or meet. However, your chances of finding a good host are improved by creating a good profile.
People wanting to host travellers also need to fill out a profile. Think about where in the house your guests can sleep, and take a photo of the sleeping space if possible. Also think through the types of people you’d likely accept and if there’s any particular time of the year that you can’t host.
Apart from your fine self, your profile is the most important part of your couchsurfing life. In addition to the normal essentials, like name and location, there’s several fields in the couchsurfing profile that allow you to showcase a bit about who you are.
This is actually really important, because if you’re looking to be hosted, or want to host people, it’s good to know a bit about the people you’re going to meet! You want to like them, or at least find them interesting! Be transparent, be honest — help people make a decision about if they’ll enjoy your company or not.
Being a couchsurfing host
- Please be on time and do what you say you will. People in a strange city can get spooked by no-shows.
- Have a clean spot for people to sleep on.
- Give guests space for themselves, but also suggest things to do, etc.
- Let your guests know if you’d like them to eat with you, or would prefer if they did their own thing. If the latter, let them know if they can use the kitchen to prepare their own meal.
- Remember that people are coming from different cultural and often different social and economic backgrounds from you. Always look for ways to not get offended, and don’t feel bad about telling your guests if they’re acting inappropriately.
Being a couchsurfing guest
- Just like hosts, be on time and do what you say you will.
- Have time in your day (and night) to hang out with your host, but don’t expect them to provide all the entertainment.
- Clean up after yourself and go the extra mile with dishes, etc. when appropriate.
- Plan to eat by yourself, offer to cook for your hosts, or have the budget to invite your hosts out for a meal.
- Have a gift ready for your host; maybe something from home. (Postcards make very light souvenirs to carry around.)
- Be aware of cultural differences, and try to follow them! Don’t be lazy on small stuff.
Is couchsurfing safe?
Yes, we’ve found it to be safe — as did Stephanie Lee, author of Art of Solo Travel who spent nine months couchsurfing around the world. There have, however, been some unfortunate and well-publicised accounts of violent and non-violent crimes perpetrated by bogus couchsurfing hosts. Nothing is 100% safe.
There are obvious safety risks inherent in couchsurfing: at the end of the day, you’re turning up at a stranger’s house – often by yourself.
Safety tips for couchsurfers:
- Look carefully at people’s references, and ask questions of people who leave ambiguous reviews.
- Arrange to meet in a public place, like a café near their house.
- Always have a backup plan. We keep contact details for a nearby hostel just in case.
- Always let someone know where you’re going (forward address details to a trusted friend, and call or email to let them know how things are going there once you’ve arrived.)
- If you’re at all concerned, don’t go!